Blowing it in Baltimore

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The city of Baltimore hopes to curb its outrageous murder rate by preemptively transforming some of its troubled neighborhoods into prisons.

A city council leader, alarmed by Baltimore's rising homicide rate, wants to give the mayor the power to put troubled neighborhoods under virtual lockdown.

"Desperate measures are needed when we're in desperate situations," City Council Vice President Robert W. Curran told The (Baltimore) Sun. He said he would introduce the legislation next week.

Under Curran's plan, the mayor could declare "public safety act zones," which would allow police to close liquor stores and bars, limit the number of people on city sidewalks, and halt traffic during two-week intervals.

Police would be encouraged to aggressively stop and frisk individuals in those zones to search for weapons and drugs.

Baltimore has tallied 108 homicides already this year, compared to 98 over the same period last year. Police and prosecutors also say they are facing a "stop snitching" culture [More on this later. --ed] that discourages victims and witnesses from cooperating with investigators trying to get criminals off the streets. [bold added]
There are so many things wrong with this proposal that I hardly know where to begin. For one thing, minus the calling in of the National Guard we saw in New Orleans and almost saw in Jackson, Mississippi (both majority-black, like Baltimore), this proposal throws out the baby of liberty with the bathwater of ineffective law enforcement, not to mention inviting massive abuse by policemen and perhaps other government officials.

And, as we are seeing with global warming hysteria and the just-mentioned cases of inappropriate responses to crime, the excuse for such massive new government intrusions is that there is an "emergency". As I have said before:
So because the government -- by failing to punish criminals adequately and thus creating an "emergency" -- has proven unable or unwilling to protect individual rights, it is thus entitled to run over individual rights and install military troops? For what other pedestrian reasons will we have government officials declaring "emergencies" and what will they capriciously decide to do about them? This trigger-happy willingness to declare "emergencies" seems like the real emergency to me.
In addition to presenting the threat of unwarranted government intrusion to anyone who happens to live in one of these neighborhoods, there is also the inconvenient fact that many high-crime neighborhoods -- especially where there is what is euphemistically called a "'stop snitching' culture" -- are black neighborhoods.

Just wait until the NAACP notices that most of the locked-down areas are heavily black. Baltimore will either have to abandon its plan or spread the misery in the name of racial equality! In neither case will it be protecting the freedom of its law-abiding citizens. (Although, at least if the plan gets shot down, freedom will have been served by accident. Sort of.)

None of this is to deny that Baltimore has a serious problem and that its government must change aspects of how it addresses crime. I suspect that some of these changes would be similar to those I mentioned at the previous link, so I will not go into them again here. The specific problem of uncooperative witnesses sounds daunting, but instituting neighborhood lockdowns is not the way to address it.

Nevertheless, the mention of the "'stop snitching' culture" alludes to the more fundamental problem, faced by cities like Baltimore (and by black Americans generally) which I recently read a column about. After noting such deleterious influences as rap music on black youths, the column ended as follows, with the following allusion to the anti-snitch culture:
"In this war we have to decide which side we're on: the side of the law, or the side of the gangs. If that means turning our back on a family member, so be it.

We have to make ending gang and gun violence our movement and our cause.
The column further reminded me of a particularly stupid comment awhile back by a popular rapper to the effect that he would not cooperate with the police, even to turn in a serial killer next door.
Where I come from, once word gets out that you've co-operated with the police, that only makes you a bigger target of criminal violence.

That is a dark reality in so many neighbourhoods like mine across America. I'm not saying it's right, but it's reality. [bold added]
Does this concern for one's image even over one's continued existence not sound juvenile? Is it any wonder that so many kids growing up in such neighborhoods see it less likely that they will suffer for committing a murder than for turning someone in for a crime? How the hell can someone grow up into a responsible adult, much less one who thinks long-range, in such a milieu?

What I find ironic about the Baltimore proposal is that it threatens to reinstate almost exactly the kind of poor policing that helped cause many blacks to become wary of cooperating with the police in the first place, back when the police were part of the state apparatus for enforcing Jim Crow laws. To be sure, the police would not be enforcing segregation, but they would once again represent an oppressive state rather than simply acting as guardians of public order.

Now that I think of it, the notion of massive lock-downs of neighborhoods itself strikes me as a reprise of other aspects of Jim Crow. And this provokes another thought: Just as any culture can slowly become accustomed to tyranny over time, I suspect that many of the problems in black culture today are a sort of "hangover" from the long period of servitude and second-class citizenship during which it developed.

That being the case, I see such lock-downs as a horrible impediment to black youths breaking with the dysfunctional aspects of their culture. Living like this will make it harder for them to learn how to live with the personal responsibility called for by freedom -- or to appreciate why it is better to help a cop rather than to cover up for a crime.

Black Americans face a life-and-death cultural problem that can be helped or hindered -- but not solved for them -- by government action. Ultimately, blacks must develop a culture of individualism like other Americans before they will realize the value of rule of law. All the government can do is makes its best effort to protect their lives and their freedom while they learn.

-- CAV


: Corrected two typos.


Dismuke said...

"Black Americans face a life-and-death cultural problem that can be helped or hindered -- but not solved for them -- by government action. Ultimately, blacks must develop a culture of individualism like other Americans before they will realize the value of rule of law. All the government can do is makes its best effort to protect their lives and their freedom while they learn.

The other thing the government can do which would be a HUGE help would be to close down the government run schools or, at the very least as a step in that direction, use the money that is spent on them as some sort of voucher for tuition to any private school parents choose and which would be willing to take them.

There are a lot of parents in such neighborhoods who do want their kids to live better lives than they did - and are reality oriented enough to know that they do not wish their kids to make the same mistakes they did. But most parents often lack the ability to communicate to their children the values of a better worldview that they themselves have little experience with and which they merely know in an abstract sort of way exists elsehwere in the wider culure. And, even if they do, once the child reaches school age, he is thrown in the middle of the cesspool and has no choice but to "fit in" if he values his life.

Even apart from the explicit ideas they preach, by forcing the children of poor but well-meaning and decent parents to interact on a daily basis with young criminals and with teachers being uable to throw out such criminals and most likely intimidated by such kids themselves, the public schools essentially become a breeding ground for the very worst sorts of mindsets.

What that neighborhood needs is an army of Marva Collins type teachers and schools armed with the ability to expel troublemakers. I have no doubt that if the government would simply get out of the way there are people in black America who do have a grasp of what needs to be done and I have no doubt that something better will soon emerge.

Problem is that current conditions are very convenient to Leftist politicians who need "victims" in order to remain viable - and the public schools serve their purpose of turning out generation after generation of helpless, semi-illiterate victims.

That, of course, is a long-term solution only. About the only thing I can think of to address the crime problem in the short run is to abolish the prohibition on drugs which provides the fuel and financial incentive for so much of the crime. This sounds horrible but drugs serve the function of essentially self-liquidating much of the very worst element. If they were legalized, it would at least eliminate much of the suffering that crime victims have to endure as part of this process of self-liquidation.

Gus Van Horn said...

Excellent points both on how public schools contribute to the problem (which could be a lengthy article in and of itself) and on how the prohibition against drugs contributes to crime. Thank you for bringing those up.

Adrian Hester said...

Yo, Gus, you quote the following about the "no-snitchers": "In this war we have to decide which side we're on: the side of the law, or the side of the gangs. If that means turning our back on a family member, so be it." The sentiment that repudiates reminds me a little too much of that comment E.M. Forster once made, "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the decency to betray my country." Well, obviously Dr. Johnson was wrong: It's not patriotism that's the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Gus Van Horn said...

That is doubly true in America, the only country founded explicitly on the principle of protecting individual rights!

z said...

"I suspect that many of the problems in black culture today are a sort of "hangover" from the long period of servitude and second-class citizenship during which it developed."

Great point. I have a black girlfriend and am raising her black children though I am white, which doesn't make me an expert, but we do have great fun talking about this subject. She says I've set her free by introducing her to and validating reason, logic, and selfishness.

I keep stressing that black people need to develop a respect for reason. She agrees and says that for black people, "its all about this" (pointing to her heart). The two ideas she was (implicitly)taught as a child were: pray, and follow your heart. She had never known exactly what an athiest was until she met me.

With those two ideas firmly entrenched in their culture, it's kind of hard to see how blacks will develop a culture of individualism. I see in her kids a very strong tendency to rely on what others tell them, rather than figuring out something on their own. (An example of the "hangover", possibly?) We are trying hard to teach them to be rationally selfish, and what exactly that means.

They look perplexed when I correct their grammar. They don't see the significance. They don't understand why I stress that they figure things out, rather than always asking somebody else. They really don't understand why I try to separate them and do things with them individually. They don't want to do anything unless their brothers and sisters come along. There is no "I", only "we" or "us".

Meanwhile, her two nieces have gotten pregnant as soon as they turned 17 and 18, as if this is some kind of metaphysical law on par with gravity. No long-term focus. Pray. "God won't give you more than you can handle."

Gus Van Horn said...

You don't say how old the kids are, but assuming they're in public schools, you're having to fight not just the cultural influences of their black peers and relatives, but the encouragement given all the unfortunate qualities of that cultural influence by "Progressive" education.

Your last point brings up another problem. The culture has become self-perpetuating in many ways. An unplanned pregnancy can throw lots of options and plans out the window, as can not having a husband. Or a job. or education. Or a safe place to live. That's for the mother and her children.

Who needs racial discrimination to cause poverty and ruin quality of life (if not end life itself) when such behavior is a cultural norm?

z said...

"An unplanned pregnancy can throw lots of options and plans out the window..."

Thats interesting. It brings me back to the idea of a "hangover". Virtually nothing I know of in said culture *is* planned. Ignorance is rampant. Planning is non-existent. Thats why all the rap songs talk about "hustling" and being "on the grind"-with no plan, just survival. There is no long-range thinking, which I believe is a remnant of the second-class citizenship you spoke of. An epistemological stagnation caused by a heritage of slavery has left decendants too reliant on the belief that everything is in someone-else's (white-people's or God's) hands.

The type of lifestyle this leads to is one in which they've never *seen* a "plan", and wouldn't know what it's used for even if they had. My girlfriend has learned about planning through outside influences, but her early family life was one where things "just happened", and no explainations were given, and no expectations were expressed be met or go unmet.

Also, the segregation over generations has led to a lack of ideas crossing the racial boundary. Virtually every day she remarks that I am giving her superior ideas, but that these would not be accepted by most black people.

The children are 17, 14, and 10. When I went to a new high-school with the 17yo to enroll her (in a large city in northeast Florida), the atmosphere I encountered was one that more resembled a steamy video on BET than a school, complete with girls in stilletto heels and thugged-out guys saying "Gurl turn around, lemme see yo booty." That only lasted a few months before we started home-schooling her.

So, yeah, we're dealing with a school system which is totally day-care, defaulting on it's basic purpose.

Gus Van Horn said...

Your remark about "the belief that everything is in someone-else's ... hands" reaches the heart of the matter. THIS is both a hangover from when the law and collateral circumstances made this largely true AND an excuse not to live rationally now(something for which many will not have had much practice attempting to do anyway).

Having said that, Thomas Sowell actually posits that much of the dysfunctionality of black culture is shared with the white redneck culture that originated in lawless portions of the British Isles. (It has been long-enough since I read his book that I do not recall the precise details of how he thought the cultural transmission to blacks occurred.

However, that may not be so important since his description of the areas in which this culture arose indicates a poverty-stricken and crime-ridden situation that would probably look familiar to many inner-city blacks today.

I would think that any prolonged exposure of a people to the kinds of conditions seen in some inner cities would produce what Sowell calls a "redneck culture". While some cultural transmission certainly did occur, I do not think black culture would have necessarily have had to have been that heavily influenced by white redneck culture to turn out the way it has.

Nevertheless, I found Sowell's book very interesting and highly recommend it.